From time to time I post the Q and A's from my AllExpert Account. This one was listed as private so of course I have removed all personal info. It is however an important question for us to discuss.
What are your thoughts?
A poster recently lost a loved one and wishes to understand. This person believes in reincarnation and wants to know if the loved one return in the family or in some knowable/identifiable way. Also, is the loved one aware of the poster's prayers, sadness etc.
Please accept my condolences on your [loved ones] passing.
All religions and spiritual traditions debate what happens after we leave the body. As you don't specify your religion I will answer according to my personal beliefs. If you have further questions do feel free to write back.
Life in this material world seems to be all there is, however this life is but a minor point, a mere period that comes between sentences in a book that has neither sure beginning nor end.
As we travel through this life we are constantly changing, passing from conception to fetus to baby to infant to child through puberty and on into adulthood and old age. This is part of the natural cycle of life in the material worlds, and this cycle never ends. After old age, usually, the soul leaves the body and continues on her way.
Where the soul goes, what she experiences, this is where the debate comes in.
I believe, as taught in the Indian Vedas and other sagely works, that there are three basic influences that determine this:
Karma ("we reap what we sow"): our actions and the reactions to them,
Dharma (or Torah): the Laws of God and principles of rightness and justice, and
Marga (or destiny): the resultant course we walk through life.
Taken together these three influences control samsara, the eternal cycles of our lives.
We can speak of these influences in general terms. Do good, get good, do bad, get bad, etc. however in any specific case we simply don't know, at least not without employing psychic techniques which are themselves questionable.
I can not therefore tell you where your dear [loved one] is now.
It is my belief that between lifetimes there is a period of waiting and resting, of re-evaluation of the life just lived. This state of being is sometimes referred to as the Realm of the Akasha, but again, this can be debated. It is nonetheless my belief that the recently departed are in this state, fully aware of their loved ones, indeed, more fully aware than during their physical lives. They see and understand the underpinnings of our grief and sorrow, they typically forgive the wrongs we may have done them, they realize the blessings and love they may have not seen during their physical incarnation. They typically attend their funerals, wakes, cremations etc. and hear our eulogies.
During this period of "time" (a meaningless phrase in this interim realm but one that usually, according to many, lasts around 7-14 years) the soul that was Mom, Dad, Friend, Child and so on comes into a state of Peace (balance), both peace that the previous life is over and peace that the time to continue on has come. It is for this reason, in part, that while mourning the loss of our dearly departed is normal and emotionally healthy, it is also important that we release them, that we let them to go on so they may more easily continue their natural course in peace. This of course takes time.
Now, according to many sources, souls tend to reincarnate within certain familial circles. Grandkids are sometimes their own grandparents, husbands become grand-daughters, sons become mothers, and so on. This is somewhat conjecture of course, based on "rebirthing" experiences, dreams, psychic readings and so on, but I believe it is more often the case than random chance would allow. Many Hindus and others from ancient traditions believe souls always return to the previous families. I would not go that far, in part because my present life bears no familial connections with my past two (to my knowledge). Again, this is a debatable topic.
While the following is obviously a very simplistic example, it gives an idea of how I believe this process works:
While in Akashic awareness the soul or jiva contemplates everything from all past lives and determines what would have made life better, more spiritually OR materially progressive and so on. With this determination the soul decides, for instance, I would like to be male (or female), and Indian (American, Mexican, Chinese etc), rich (average or poor etc), a devout Christian (or Hindu or Muslim....or Agnostic or Atheist or to simply avoid the topic all together) and so on. As the Soul determines what she wants to experience in the upcoming life, the Holy Ones (angels, fates, pick your terms) enter the picture...
The Holy Ones consider the soul's desire and then modifies it according to the soul's Karma, Dharma and Marga. You wish to be female, however you need to be male this time because... You choose to be born into wealth, but will need to be born in poverty because... however, you will have a natural disposition towards pulling yourself out of that poverty and into extreme wealth: you will be a "natural entrepreneur" (or perhaps you will be a person for whom wealth holds no attraction or even an aversion). Your birth family will be through your grand-daughter due to your continued attraction, however relations will be strained by your lack of religious faith... etc.
Again, this is a gross over-simplification but your get the idea.
As it is not possible, objectively, to understand ones karma (why we do as we do, what influences from this and past lives have lead us to this present point etc) we can not say with certainty where our karma, in harmony with dharma and manifested according to marga will lead us next.
The essential purpose of rebirth, I believe, is to allow the soul or jiva to come into the eventual realization that only by choosing to submit oneself to Ek Devata (God however conceived) do we find true happiness and fulfillment in our existence. This is the ultimate goal of the process. Family, religious, national, cultural, racial, etc. ties are all temporary constraints and opportunities in our on-going spiritual development and eventual return Home.
With the passing of a loved one our best response is to grieve for our loss as we need to, to pray that they will make wise decisions in their future (knowing that the soul is eternal), and to learn from their example that this life is fleeting, that sooner than we now believe we will be following them into eternity and our loved one will be mourning our loss.
From the Bhagavad Gita 2:11: The Blessed One said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead.
2:12: Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings, nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.
2:13: As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul also passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.
2:14: O son of Kunti, sensory perceptions afflict one with cold, heat, pleasure and pain. They appear and disappear and are impermanent. Therefore endure them all O descendant of Bharata.
(Source, my translation: http://srijagannatha.com/gita/gita2.html).
Hope this helps,
~John of AllFaith